Sunday, November 12, 2006

Le Samourai

When I lived in Seattle, I was so healthy and so grunge -- bike helmet strapped to my backpack, grass stains on my shirt from ultimate frisbee, tivas. This dress was a delicate balance of life-affirming and Nirvana, one must be ready to pivot quickly, to be morose with goths or to climb Mt. Baker.

Moving to New York (with several intermediate stages) has changed me. My wife frowns on flannel. My shoes require occasional applications of polish. I am thankful for the ubiquity of cleaners. Although I do not go out of my way to be cool, I do strive to avoid embarrassment around those who do.

New York has also changed the way I move in space. Clothing is part of the issue, the Seattle puddle I might jump in; the New York puddle would stain my trousers. But more: the hard press of people drives me to open spaces: to Grant's tomb, the Great Lawn, the Hall of Arms and Armor. I am far more conscious of my movements, of my trajectory relative to those around me, of my pace and weight and sillouette, of my clothes. And I have new models. Goodbye Eddie Vedder; hello Alain Delon. Goodbye, frisbee player and wannabe mountain climber; hello househusband and wannabe assassin.

I want to move through New York the way Alain Delon moves through Le Samourai: clean, unyielding, as silently as possible. Under Jean-Pierre Melville's direction, Delon (assassin, master of his motion) inhabits washed out, minimalist spaces. His apartment is furnished with a bed and a parakeet that moults when the place has been cased. His hat and tie suggest a very competent tailer, and even greater competence is shown in his manufacture of an alibi for a murder he did commit. There is love, of a sort, and danger and suspense, but mostly this is a movie of movement. Melville's camera follows Delon obsessively, and dialogue is of secondary interest.

The movie also makes me nostalgic for the days when European high-culture could see in American low-culture a Middle Earth of middlebrow inspiration. Melville has been thinking about Sam Spade, he has been watching Cary Grant. His sensibilities are not unlike those of Frank Lloyd Wright (although the aesthetic effects are quite different). The fashion in this morning is elegant sixties -- the kind that James Bond proported to offer.

But when I walk through New York tonight, Lazemby will be the farthest thing from my mind. I will go with deliberate paces and clean trousers. I will be tucked in and my held will be tilted as if I were wearing a hat. My imaginary overcoat will conceal my imaginary pistol, and my apartment will be free of bugs. I will outwit the police. I will turn my plot in on itself. I will be methodical and lethal. And I will recite the koan that forms the epigram for Melville's clasic film:

"There is no solitude greater than that of a tiger in the jungle. Unless -- perhaps -- it be that of a Samurai."


twiffer said...

well, it's good to know i'm not the only one who does this sort of thing.

august said...


bad, bad kitty said...

i think living in that environment is going to ruin your health. you probably oughta come back west to the emerald city.

tiger barbs said...


you. are. a poet.

august said...

Thanks y'all.

It may ruin my health, but like many vices, NYC is proabably worth it.

tiger barbs said...

i loved loved loved my all-too-short visit to nyc. i talk about it still, to anyone who'll listen [and sometimes even if they won't listen].

demosthenes2 told us that nyc denizens actually have a slightly longer than average lifespan. possible reasons: clean drinking water, lots of walking.